Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Bank VIPs

At Chinese banks, you don't stand in line. You get a number and sit in a waiting area until your number is called. I'm just a regular customer, so all my numbers start with A. I come in and hand my card to the employee, the employee swipes my card and gives me a slip that says, maybe, A-022. Then I sit down and see that the customer currently being helped had number A-019. You might think that means there are only two people between me and being helped. But the order in which your number is called is not necessarily related to the order in which you entered the bank. Other customers are VIPs, and their numbers start with V. A number starting with V gets priority; a number starting with A only gets helped if the clerks have nothing else to do.

I mentioned to a guy at church that I'd like to be a VIP customer, but I don't know how one qualifies. He said, "You open an account with a large enough balance." I said, "Oh, then I'll never qualify."

Then he said, "Just do what the Chinese do." He then outlined for me how there seem to be so many VIP customers at my bank: a group of friends pool their money and take turns opening bank accounts with the cash. The account only needs to have the large balance at creation; it doesn't require a maintained minimum balance. So everyone's a millionaire for a day, basically, and the large number of bank VIPs is the result.

The result is that the socially-connected end up VIPs and the friendless (and ignorant foreigners) are the ones getting skipped in line.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Just a Reminder

Gary Johnson is running for president. Coming from someone who's already voted for the Libertarian candidate in a general election (Bob Barr in 2008), it feels like a good thing to do when you vote for the better candidate and not the less-unappetizing pile of puke.

Power Outages

About every three months, we have a Sunday where all our utilities have been cut for about 12 hours. This is announced to us like it's no big deal, but several of my Chinese colleagues have lived overseas as students, so they must remember that this type of thing NEVER HAPPENS ANYWHERE ELSE!

It's always presented to us as "routine maintenance." How in the world does their utility maintenance require such disruption? My wife said this morning, "Maybe their utility equipment is like everything else in China that breaks after six months of use. Our piano, our vacuum cleaner...."

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Temporary Reprieve

I once read a blog post where a person was asking for advice regarding which antivirus software to run on a computer he would be bringing to China on a vacation. One reply stuck with me: the commenter recommended, "Don't bring any Internet-connected device to China that you want to use again once you leave."

My family has experienced worsening Internet conditions over the past two months. Our VPN service works less and less, and when it does work, it doesn't really. For instance, the VPN will say we're routed through a server in Dallas, but search results will be in Chinese. My workplace VPN mysteriously refuses to load Google sites, even though my work insists it's a totally legit service and they don't doctor it.

Well, towards the end of last week, I discovered that some of my problems go away if I use Chrome instead of Firefox. While I'm not that happy about it, because I dislike Google, it's a way of doing what I have to do online.

I have 75 days left in China.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Trans Bathrooms and Blind Justice

America has changed a lot in the 20 months that I've been gone, and the biggest change is the social view of transgenderism. Now, I've written before about my view on transgenderism: in short, I have to respect the great physical and social cost borne by these people as evidence of a massive imperative to undergo this transformation, and who am I to question or resist such a massive imperative? But there's a big difference between someone who undergoes gender reassignment surgery, someone who doesn't undergo surgery but transforms his or her social persona, someone who keeps everything the same except which personal pronouns he or she uses, and someone whose only change is in his or her "heart of hearts." Basically, the less-public (and the less-reversible) the change, the more-likely the insincerity.

"How DARE you, A Random Stranger?!" I'm not saying every trans-gender person is a sexual predatory who is lying for increased access to his or her intended victims. I'm not saying every trans-gender person is a highly-suggestible reed blowing in the wind of public opinion. But I'm saying those possibilities increase as the costs of transgenderism decline.

This is tricky, because for those with the massive imperative, the costs are tragic and should be lessened. But as the costs approach zero (on net--of course it will never be embraced by all your peers, but the awards for "bravery" might balance out the criticisms for "unnaturalness"), we'll see more people self-identify as trans-gender for reasons of personal gain (attention, favoritism, opportunity). I'm not accusing any particular trans-gender person of doing this. I'm merely saying marginal analysis would indicate this is true: when you lower the cost, more transactions occur.

When I'm out with my daughter, we coordinate our trips to the restroom. She goes in the women's room while I'm in the men's room, and whoever is done first is to return to a designated spot and wait for the other. Of course, sexual abuse by a cis-gendered woman is a possibility, but it's a low possibility and I feel that the combination of the presence of other women and the expected time required to use the restroom would make abuse unlikely and allow me to get help in a timely manner when needed. But when you introduce the possibility that a for-all-appearances man is hanging out in the women's restroom, waiting for conditions to be right for abusing women and girls, I am not excited about returning to America and having my wife and daughter face this situation.

Again, I'm not saying any trans-gender person is a sexual predator. But I'm saying that sexual predators will pose as trans-gender people, especially when the only "posing" necessary is telling concerned parties, "I self-identify as a lady, you BIGOT!" If you doubt that sexual deviants take strange actions to satisfy their sexual perversions, I'd like to remind you of this man who entered the tank of a portable toilet so he could receive sexual gratification while watching the users (and being covered in their detritus).

Yesterday morning when I woke up, my brain was thinking, "If it's legal for a man to be in the women's restroom, then I can protect my wife and daughter by accompanying them inside the women's restroom." Instead of using the facilities coincidentally, we will use them sequentially. And that thought set my mind at ease. But after a little more thought later in the day, I wasn't so sure that would work. I suspect that it is legal for a man who identifies as a woman to be in the women's restroom, but that it's still illegal for a man who identifies as a man to be there. So any potential sexual predatory can enter the women's restroom, but a protective father cannot. The one is a beautiful expression of individuality, and the other is the act of a paranoid bigot.

This is insane. In the literal sense of the word. Last night my wife and I watched this video where American college students struggle to explain why a 5'9" white man is not a 6'5" Chinese woman. Many of them eventually decide they can definitely say 5'9" is not 6'5". But on what basis? Even this federal judge referred to "so-called 'biological sex,'" as if the presence or absence of a Y chromosome is a matter of opinion. If we can call a missing Y chromosome a difference of opinion, why can't we say the same for a missing eight inches?

A Stranger's Just a Friend You Ignore While He's Bleeding Profusely

Here's an article I can't read because it costs $22 and I prefer eating food instead. But this summary of the article says researchers have found racial disparity in whether or not you can expect help from a stranger if you have a medical emergency in public.

Some might point to this and say, "America's systemic racism is the reason a black guy having a heart attack will be left to die on the sidewalk by racist white Americans." But I don't see it that way. ("Of course you don't, Whitey!" - The Perpetually-Aggrieved Minority Reader.) Our public spaces are pretty segregated, so if blacks are being ignored in their health crises, they are probably being ignored by other blacks. Also, note that there's a socioeconomic component to stranger assistance, as well. Black communities are, on average, poorer than white communities, and it appears poor people are less-inclined to help others.

This is interesting because it goes against the hagiographic paeans we hear of disadvantaged neighborhoods. Far from the "we were poor but we were happy" stories that romanticize poor neighborhoods, the reality is that ghettos are more Hobbesian than Lockean.

This has implications for efforts to force integration. Reducing the average income of an area and increasing its diversity would create less-cohesive communities where people are less-inclined to help strangers. So have your unscheduled heart attack in a middle-income white town, not while visiting a big city.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Rolling Up the Welcome Mat

I know I've only lived in China for about 20 months, so I'm definitely no expert, but based on the things I've experienced and the things I've heard from those who have been here longer, I'd say the official position of the Chinese government to foreign nationals coming to work here is in a cooling period.

Why do I say that? Things like the decline in the percentage of citizens displaying English proficiency, the de-emphasis of English on China's standardized college-entrance exam, the increased requirements for obtaining work visas, the increased rhetoric against foreign capital flight, and--above all else--the heightened enforcement of Internet restrictions.

My understanding is that, in the past, The Great Firewall of China was quite porous, and no one really had a problem with that. Most everyone knew you needed a VPN and most things worked with VPNs. It was quite easy for foreign nationals to set one up and quite difficult for citizens, so a two-tiered system was in place, where foreigners could do what they wanted online and nationals couldn't, and that was pretty much okay.

This year, though, doing anything online has been much more difficult. VPNs completely fail, or else they say they are working but you get directed to Chinese-language home pages of the websites you're trying to visit. Partly at the request of China, commercial services have begun restricting access via VPNs, so when China fails to stop me from watching Netflix, Netflix finishes the job for them.

Knowing that virtually nothing can be done from within China without a VPN, my school (a state-owned school) has provided a VPN service for us to use while at work. For the past six weeks, it's the only way I can reliably e-mail anyone. But even this service has "problems" loading Google products. And my school doesn't open until 6:30 AM. My job interview calls are all around 3 or 4 AM.

When our Chinese monitors read me write "this is making me not want to live here anymore," I think they see that as a feature, not a bug. Go home, you Yankee imperialist dog. From the previous position of seeking enhanced worldwide integration, the current leadership is seeking to increase China's distance from the rest of the world. Public-service-announcement posters warn against dating foreigners. A new Chinese law coming soon has the potential to completely sever China's connection to the World Wide Web and make the country a giant Intranet.

"Cut the crap, A Random Stranger; how does this impact ME?" Well, perhaps you've noticed a slowdown in my blogging. Four posts in 19 days of April projects out to my first single-digit month since January 2015 (the last time there was a large-scale VPN crackdown) and my fewest since July 2014 (which month I spent mostly driving on two long-distance road trips). Waiting for a page to load while watching a little read-out jump around between zero and a few hundred KILObytes per second gets old very, very quickly. And, in a round-about way, the long-term prospects of the blog dim when the chances that I starve and die increase, and if I can't interview for my next job, I can't very well get my next job. So this ARS slowdown promises to continue until I give up on China and leave. Which is exactly what China wants.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Evolving Sports

I feel like I might have already written a post about this once. But who cares?

I'm intrigued by the way sports evolve, and especially whether offense or defense improves faster. Look at basketball: from its invention when games had final scores like 6-2, to today when even high-school teams break 100 points sometimes. Basketball offense has improved much more than basketball defense has.

Generally speaking, basketball and American football evolution has favored offense, while baseball, hockey, and soccer evolution has favored defense. Anytime a league needs a rule change to increase scoring, it's an indication that offense evolution has been outpaced by defense evolution.

I find it interesting that this relates pretty well to pee-wee versions of the game: little kid basketball games are lower scoring than professional games, while little kid soccer games are higher scoring than professional games. Think of kids as modern-day representatives of proto-players.

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Big Gulp

I still can't remember what the awesome blog post was that I thought of over the weekend. But I did remember this blog post idea that I had. What if this idea is the awesome idea? Well, I certainly hope my brain didn't think this idea was "important, true, and innovative." But, then again, my brain sucks, so who knows?

When I broke my ankle in 1996, I had terribly painful swelling after my surgery. I spent about three days stuck on the couch, watching the Olympics and calling my girlfriend's apartment and having her roommates tell me she was still not home yet. (I was super bored.)

Anyway, for those three days, I couldn't get up to go to the bathroom because I had to keep my leg elevated to avoid pain. So my family devised this system. We dedicated a gas station 64-ounce cup as the pee cup, and I would pee into that and then have one of my parents dump it in the toilet. Because this was less-than-ideal, I held my urine as much as I possibly could. Then I only had to do this two times a day or so.

Here's the interesting thing: if I held it too long, I ended up filling the cup and needing to make two trips of it. This means that I had more than 64 ounces of urine in me at the time.

Have you seen the size of a 64-ounce cup? Isn't it weirdly fascinatingly gross that my bladder was larger than a gas station super-sized cup?

Picture from

I once dated a girl who said her entire family was cursed with unusually-small bladders. If we'd had kids, I wonder if they would have had average bladders.

If that picture made it so you can never again drink Mountain Dew from a gas station cup, you're welcome.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Rectum v. Colon

I had a thought this past weekend and in response to it I thought, "That thought is important, true, and innovative. You need to write your next blog post about it."

I can't remember what it is now.

So instead, I'll write about poop. Actually, about the parts of the body that make poop.

Today I had this question: "Given that the role of the large intestine is to absorb water from feces, is there value gained by clenching against diarrhea, giving your body more time to absorb water from it, or is it too late by the time the diarrhea has reached your colon?" So I looked up "colon" on Wikipedia, and I learned that the term "colon" is actually just a synonym for "large intestine."

I guess I was imagining that the colon was between the large intestine and the rectum. Anyway, based on my five minutes on Wikipedia, my expert medical opinion is that it's never too late to absorb water from feces, so retaining diarrhea longer will make it less diarrhea-ey.

It's for pronouncements like that that my loyal reader keeps coming back for more.

NB: Remember, the "math" label doubles as the "science" label.